Originally published by October 12, 2005
On Tuesday October 12, 2005, The Hourable James K. Bartleman, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, opened the Second Session of the 38th Parliament of the Province of Ontario with a Speech from the Throne (the "Speech") that outlined the McGunity government’s priorities for the next two years. As expected, the speech placed significant emphasis on the achievements the McGunity government has secured to date in the key public policy areas of primary and post-secondary education, health care, reducing the fiscal deficit, increasing electricity supply and improving the investment climate of Ontario.
The Premier stated in a press release following the Lieutenant Governor’s address, "Everything—from the ability of our businesses to compete and their capacity to fund a caring society to the opportunities available to children—depends on Ontario’s prosperity".
The following summary provides an overview of the key themes and initiatives outlined in the Speech with an emphasis on those areas that would be of greatest interest to clients of Borden Ladner Gervais, LLP.
The direction outlined for Ontario’s electricity policy is consistent with the McGunity government’s pervious announcements and legislative initiatives. It is placed squarely within the context of improving the infrastructure of the province to facilitate economic growth. The Speech mentioned the need to refurbish or rebuild or replace 25,000 megawatts of electricity supply over the next 15 years. And in order to facilitate the construction of new electricity supply, the government created the Ontario Power Authority that would be responsible for long term planning and providing clear advice to government on supply resources. A commitment was made to "act on the best, unvarnished advice on what must be done next" from the Ontario Power Authority (p.19).The phase out of Ontario’s coal fired generation was mentioned not in the context of infrastructure planning or electricity policy, but as a health care issue and the commitment to eliminate all coal plants by 2009 was reiterated.
The Speech also mentioned the government’s commitment to introduce smart meters for all homes and businesses by 2010 in the context of assisting consumers in managing their demand for electricity. In addition, the Speech stated that the government would introduce new legislation to encourage energy conservation.
The Speech mentioned the elimination of commodity price caps or subsidies and will "take the politics out of electricity pricing" and let the Ontario Energy Board set residential electricity rates.
Public Infrastructure Investments
The previous government announcements related to the RenewOntario, five year, $30 billion dollar public infrastructure plan were mentioned. The emphasis in this context was on improving access to emerging economies and Ontario’s trading partners in the United States. Improvements to the Windsor-Detroit border crossing are key in this regard.
Biotechnology and Innovation
To fully develop the province’s economic capacity, Ontario must lead in the innovation race. The mandate of supporting the process for innovation and creating a culture of innovation for the new Ministry of Research and Innovation was a key theme of the Speech. A new Ontario Research and Innovation Council will provide strategic advice to the Premier in this regard. The model stated reflects the government’s view that the Automotive Investment Strategy has been successful and should provide a similar framework for the biotechnology sector.
A key sector being targeted is the $30 billion dollar agri-food industry in Ontario. From support to cattle farmers to the construction of ethanol plants in Ontario, the government will continue to create new markets for Ontario’s farmers.
Automotive Investment Strategy
With the recent announcements of the large plant investment by Toyota in Woodstock, the Speech highlights the successes of the Automotive Investment Strategy in creating jobs and attracting new investments. The Speech mentioned agreements with Ford, General Motors, Toyota and Navistar and how those deals have leveraged over $4.5 billion of investment in Ontario. Discussions with several other companies were mentioned as on going with the hopes of building on the successes of these earlier arrangements.
Specific environmental initiatives were noticeably absent from the Speech. The references to moving forward with introducing new legislation to protect drinking water in response to the Walkerton Inquiry and to improve the environmental assessment process to make more transparent and efficient were the key issues. Kyoto was mentioned in the context of energy conservation and the efficiency measures being introduced and the elimination of coal fired generation. The previous government’s Drive Clean program for automotive emissions will be eliminated due to poor design and cost.
As expected, the Speech placed a great deal of emphasis on how Ontario’s health care system represents an important competitive advantage to the province’s economic welfare and how preserving and enhancing this system is key for our continued economic prosperity. The new annoucement was the integrated information system for accessing progress being made on the reduction of wait times for various medical procedures. Each hospital will be tracked in this regard to allow patients access to information about wait times at hospitals across Ontario.
In addition, previous announcements about increasing physicians and nurses across the health care system were mentioned as well as the creation of 14 Local Health Integration Networks for planning local health care.
The Speech mentioned briefing on various government departmental budgets have been reduced or flat lined. The original $5.6 billion dollar deficit inherited from the previous government has now been reduced to $1.6 billion.
The last public policy area mentioned was how the government is establishing partnerships with municipalities to improve service delivery and funding mechanisms. The Speech mentioned that the new City of Toronto Act will if passed treat Canada’s largest city as a mature level of government. In addition, new legislation will be proposed to treat all municipal governments with "the respect they deserve".
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